Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Favorite Era: Orca: The Killer Whale (1977)


I've written about it elsewhere on the blog but I cannot possibly do a series on my favorite era of movie making without one more tribute to the first really bad movie I ever saw.  This famous flop from producer Dino DeLaurentiis was one of many Jaws cash-ins made during this time and actually, it may be one of the better ones.

Richard Harris plays Nolan, a hunter who accidentally kills a killer whale who also happens to be pregnant (We unfortunately have to see the damn thing have a miscarriage on the deck of the boat).  Her mate sees this and the movie turns into not just a cash-in on Jaws, but also a riff on frigging Death Wish only instead of Charles Bronson we get a huge whale!

The Orca sets off on a roaring rampage of revenge against Nolan and all that he cares about.  So basically his life, his boat and whomever the hell was on it at the time the tragedy occurred.  Now as ridiculous as this sounds (And brother, it is!), it does have a certain goofy charm to it.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Not often you revenge film begins with peaceful footage of killer whales frolicking merrily while music from composer Ennio Morricone plays.  And by frolicking, I mean humping.  This is sign number one that the makers of the film had access to the good weed.
  • Richard Harris is quite good as Nolan, the man always brought a rough-edged charm to most of his roles (though here there is a fine layer of idiocy which afflicts all of the characters).  The rest of cast is...Well, I'm sure the whale thought they tasted just fine but as far as acting goes, the highlight is from Bo Derek when she gets her leg bitten off in the second act.  
  •  I love how pretty much the first thing we see the Orca do in the film (after getting some nookie) is killing the crap out of a great white shark.  You gotta love it when in trying to top a movie, the movie you're watching just reminds you of the exact film it's trying to top.  The sequence still works pretty good, though.  The whale t-bones the damn thing so hard it flies out of the water and comes back down spitting blood! 
  • Charlotte Rampling is given some pretty hilarious dialogue as most of her lines are espousing just how damn amazing the killer whale is.  I can only imagine Steven Seagal saw this film and said to himself "One day I will have folks talk about me like that in every movie I ever do!"  Not sure if he also planned on attaining roughly the same body mass as a whale but that's not important right now.
  • And for the record, no, I am not better than that sort of joke.
  • Most of the science on the Orca on display here is fairly wrong.  I'm not going to get too into things, rather I will direct you to the damn fine review Liz Kingsley did on her damn fine website a few years back.
  • The scene where the female whale is killed is pretty damn horrific for a PG rated film.  Probably a little over the top but then again, consider the guy producing it.  Dino and subtlety never really knew each other.
  • Proving this is the first instance where Nolan and the whale lock eyes.  It's...Well, it really has to be seen to be believed.  The film really goes overboard on the idea of killer whales having an instinct for revenge.  We basically get a Charles Bronson movie where Chuck is a gigantic whale who ends up going nuts in search of vengeance.  I could only hope to come up with something that brilliantly daft, and one time in college I wrote a story featuring a giant killer grapefruit that killed people by shooting grapefruit juice into their eyes (because it's acidic and all).  I can bring the crazy, believe me.
  • The Orca leaves his dead mate on the shore of the fishing village Nolan's boat is docked at and after some bizarre mythology stuff (complete with a stereotypical native played by Will Sampson), the roaring rampage of revenge begins as all the boats but Nolan's are disabled by the whale.
  • One of the more amusing things about the film is how every now and then, director Michael Anderson tries to go more "arty" touches like the whale/Nolan stare down which takes place in a huge closeup of the whale's eye with Nolan reflected in it.  They do work, just not in the way they were intended.  I find that sort of thing tiresome in serious films but in a cheesy revenge picture with a whale?  High comedy, folks.
  • Nolan tries to make amends by arranging a funeral and wake (because Richard Harris' bar tab must be fed!) which is one of the goofier bits of anthropomorphizing I've seen.  That's right up there with putting a sweater on your dog so it won't be cold.
  • After some farting about, Orca finally begins to target Nolan, this time blowing up a refinery and taking out his house later.  The refinery explosion a pretty nice set piece, undercut somewhat by the whale frolicking around afterwards.  Though in all honesty, I would love it in a Steven Seagal movie if he broke out into a happy dance after ripping a guy's arm off.
  • In a goofy bit, Nolan expresses a desire to simply apologize to the whale, later adding that he also lost his wife and child.  The fact that Richard Harris plays it so damn sincerely makes it even funnier.
  • Even nuttier is the assertion Rampling makes that the whale wants Nolan to face him on the open sea one on one.  I think I sort of love this movie.
  • The attack on the house is darkly hilarious as Bo Derek ends up having her injured leg (actually it's just the foot but for some reason she has a full leg cast on) bitten off which finally gets Nolan up for drawing the whale out away from people.
  • Charlotte Rampling's character might be the dumbest in the film.  Along with her frankly nutty ideas about killer whales, she ends up going back and forth on whether or not Nolan should face the whale on his own to the point where the aforementioned leg biting takes place because of her, back and forth on whether or not to kill the whale.  It's pretty annoying, really.  And she ends up being the only one left alive at the end, folks.
  • The last half hour or so goes more or less the way one would expect with Nolan and the remaining characters going out and one by one getting eaten until it;s just Nolan and the whale with Rampling watching.  Nolan gets a pretty good death scene as he faces the whale on an ice flow only to be dragged into the water and flipped into an ice wall with one flick from the whale's tail.  Now that's a good death scene!
  • The film ends with a horrid piece of sap masquerading as an end credits theme and we end things.
Orca is a rather odd beast as it's quite well made in some parts but just terminally goofy to the point of hilarity.  It's well worth checking out if you have a good sense of humor.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.